The final attempt to win the presidential elections by using a concoction of nationalism and religion helped Erdoğan snatch victory from Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu
The Kurdish population, around which much of the ‘resentment politics’ was afloat, arguably did not vote strongly enough in the runoff for the ‘secularist’ Kiliçdaroğlu as he joined hands with the right wing in his last-ditch effort to beat Erdoğan.Some of the outcomes of these elections have been taken from global political cues of the recent past. The success of ‘strong man’ politics across continents has continued, and the bubble of a homogenous liberal voting block to counter it has been burst, not only in Türkiye but also in other countries—for example, the voter base split between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016. To push back against this, Kiliçdaroğlu even tried a last-ditch effort towards an anti-immigration stance, garnering support from Türkiye’s far-right Victory Party and its leader Ümit Özdağ . By the end of it, ideology became a byproduct of the realism required to secure the numbers. The Kurdish population, around which much of the ‘resentment politics’ was afloat, arguably did not vote strongly enough in the runoff for the ‘secularist’ Kiliçdaroğlu as he joined hands with the right wing in his last-ditch effort to beat Erdoğan. Erdoğan’s return was celebrated on the same day as the fall of Constantinople—today, the city of Istanbul—on 29 May 1453, when the Ottoman Empire captured the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Such narratives have been commonly attributed to and used by Erdoğan. İbrahim Kalın, one of Erdoğan’s senior-most aides, tweeted out this very aspect of the victory a few hours after winning the ballots. Erdoğan’s politics has very often been described (and contested alike) as a ‘neo-Ottoman’ design, i.e., it came with an aim to restore the erstwhile empire’s glory in modern times using an Islamic-bent ideology as fuel. In 2020, Erdoğan declared the famous Hagia Sophia as a mosque, and not a museum, following a court ruling. On the eve of elections, he led prayers at the now mosque, a significant iconographic moment to rally his conservative, but edgy, support base. Türkiye’s relations with the world post the 2016 coup attempt became more strained as Erdoğan saw a direct challenge to his power both from within and from outside, specifically those aligned with his ideological competitor, Fethullah Gülen, a cleric and ideological competitor living in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999. However, from the Western perspective, Türkiye, a critical NATO ally, was often envisaged as a ‘model and modern Muslim state’ that could have an ideological impact across its surroundings in the Middle East. The Bosphorus Strait is seen as dividing the country between Europe and Asia, acting as a gateway for such thoughts.
From the Western perspective, Türkiye, a critical NATO ally, was often envisaged as a ‘model and modern Muslim state’ that could have an ideological impact across its surroundings in the Middle East.However, Ankara’s relations with the West under Erdoğan have never been absolute, despite being the only Muslim majority country to become a member of NATO in 1952. Today, Albania, which joined NATO in 2009, is the only other Muslim majority member. In the recent past, as tensions with the West rose, Türkiye, pushed by economic and strategic factors, started to have better relations with the likes of Russia and has improved its strained ties with regional Islamic powers such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Ukraine conflict saw Ankara hedge its bets even further, making it a useful ally for both Washington D.C. and Moscow. In the run-up to the 2023 elections, Kiliçdaroğlu even accused Russia of trying to interfere in the elections in favour of Erdoğan. Beyond its policy towards the West, Erdoğan is expected to continue Türkiye’s foreign policy along the trajectory it had been moving towards previously—one that is grounded in achieving its national interest first, even before its alliance obligations. Finally, there were questions if Kiliçdaroğlu’s win would have softened Turkish support for Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir, specifically after New Delhi’s very public deployment of capacity to provide Türkiye with aid after the earthquake. In fact, there were no indications towards such a shift if there was to be a power change. The issue of Kashmir feeds well into a ‘pan-Islamic’ narrative regionally and domestically, specifically amongst voters, which even Kiliçdaroğlu may also have employed to consolidate his position.
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Kabir Taneja is a Fellow with Strategic Studies programme. His research focuses on Indias relations with West Asia specifically looking at the domestic political dynamics ...Read More +